Doctor Who S10E07 “The Pyramid At The End Of The World” REVIEW
Airing on BBC One, Saturday nights
Writers: Peter Harness, Steven Moffat
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Essential Plot Points:
- The UN contacts the Doctor (via Bill, ruining another date with Penny*) about a 5,000 year-old pyramid that has suddenly appeared in Turmezistan. They ask him to resume his mantle of President of the World. (* Although the first date never actually happened…)
- Its location is at the centre of a war zone, where the Chinese, Russian and American armies are about to clash.
- The Pyramid turns out to a spaceship belonging to the Monks. They tell the Doctor and the leaders of the various armies that they’ll only take over the planet when invited too… and they seem pretty sure they will soon be invited too.
- The Monks reset every clock in the world to the Doomsday Clock, a metaphorical clock which indicates how close the world is to complete destruction by how many minutes to midnight it’s indicating. Currently it’s set at three minutes to midnight, and is getting closer to midnight at a frightening rate.
- At first the military leaders think that the planet’s imminent destruction must have something to do with their conflict, and so they agree not to go to war… but the Doomsday clock continues to countdown.
- The Doctor surmises the Earth is in danger from other source, but as he’s trying to work out what it might be, the military leaders panic and invite the Monks to take over the planet. But the Monks sense that their consent is driven by strategy, fear and other impure reasons, and kill them. The Monks tell Bill the consent must be genuine and from someone who wields power.
- Through a combination of educated guessing, awesome Google-Fu and a clever ruse involving the Monks’ use of laboratory’s CCTV system, the Doctor tracks down a laboratory in England where a global environmental disaster is about to happen thanks to some of the worst health and safety systems ever.
- The Doctor decides to blow the place up to sterilise the world-threatening toxic goo the scientists have inadvertently created.
- The plan works but the Doctor becomes trapped inside the facility because his blindness means he can’t operate the lock that’ll let him out…
- Bill asks if the Monks can return the Doctor’s sight. They say they can.
- So Bill consents to the Monks taking over the planet. Because she’s the Doctor’s representative and he’s the President of the World, she’s in a position to give assent, apparently. And because she’s asked out of love that makes her consent genuine. Apparently.
- So the Monks return the Doctor’s sight, and he escapes… but at what cost?
This time, the world didn’t end with either a whimper or a bang… more a kind of resigned shrug.
When we did the preview for this episode, we gave this a tentative four stars, but warned that it might drop to three-and-a-half. Actually, after rewatching it for the review, we were wondering if three-and-a-half was a little generous. Because while there’s a lot to enjoy, and a lot of crowd-pleasing moments in “The Pyramid At The End Of The World” (submarines in the desert; planes frozen in flight; the Monks dusting people with gay abandon; the Monks’ bizarre method of invasion; the Doctor making Julian Assange look like an amateur with the ultimate Wikileak; the Doctor’s ruse with the CCTV cameras) the Doctor saving the planet by blowing things up; the wonderfully ominous ending) the irritating details seem to amplify with each successive viewing.
The two biochemists, although both amiable enough characters come straight out of the Alien-prequel school of incredibly stupid scientists when it comes to their working practices. All the military leaders have barely one personality trait to share between them. The Doctor guesses that the threat will be biochemical because… well, because he needs to at that point in the episode. Then there’s the totally anachronistic combination lock in the laboratory, designed specifically to give blind heroes a problem to overcome. And let’s not forget the handy way the Monks are happy to accept Bill as the Doctor’s proxy and their sudden ability to cure blindness. Remotely.
So what we’re left with an episode that works in the broad strokes, but keeps delivering almighty gear crunches.
The parallel plots structure also works against the story. It could have worked. It should have worked. There’s a lot of tension to be mined from the audience having knowledge of the bigger picture that the main characters don’t (ask Hitchcock) and the episode should have felt more like a edgy race against time. Instead the scenes in the lab concentrate more on Douglas’s comedy hangover rather than highlighting the series of escalating mishaps leading to the biochemical apocalypse. Ironically, while the military suffer from a near blanket lack of characterisation, the lab plot actually suffers from the character-building banter making the threat feel more banal. You can’t help wondering if those scenes (until the Doctor arrives at least) might have been better achieved without dialogue, as a series of montages along the lines the opening credits to the 1970s Survivors.
On the other hand, at least the Monks are turning into intriguing villains. Although their invasion method seems unnecessarily overcomplicated (they take preplanning to whole new levels of anal retention), they do come with a whole load of memorable gimmicks and catchphrases. Their “dusting” method of killing is eye-catching too. But you do wonder what they’re going to Earth now they’ve got it. They’re so much like the galaxy’s evil probate lawyers – dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” before progressing – they’ll probably turn the planet into Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with everyone needing to sign forms in triplicate just to sneeze.
Capaldi is as magnificent as ever, and really comes to life in his scenes with Erica (Rachel Denning). These were reminiscent of Tennant’s Doctor, when he used to charm the lead female guest star in any episode and make you briefly ponder, “They’d make a really good companion.”
So, a bit of an all-over-the-place episode. It has its moments, but never quite convinces that it’s anything other than a stepping stone between “Extremis” and “The Lie Of The Land”.
- “World War III. What do you think? Basically, we’re against it.”
- “Air, water, food, beer.”
- The Doctor emerging from the TARDIS and realising he’s been “kidnapped” by the UN is a great moment.
- The new twist on the “Previously” section is a fun way to open the episode.
- The images of the Pyramid are powerful and emotive.
- The shot of the submarine sticking out of the desert is a classic.
- The Monks’ MO may be a little overcomplex but at least they’re front-loaded with memorable gimmicks.
- The ominous ending leaves you desperate to know, “What next?”
- It’s never explained why the Monks’ spaceship takes the form of a 5,000 year-old pyramid. Maybe there’ll be an explanation in a future episode but it would have been nice to have some speculation in this episode at the very least.
- Resetting all the clocks in the world to the Doomsday Clock is going to play havoc with various communications networks, but at least it’ll give Southeastern trains a valid excuse for running perpetually late.
- Not only do both scientists do things are crazily dangerous for people dealing with highly toxic substances (such as running running around leaving airlock doors open) but the facility itself seem to have some downright suspect systems in place for such an emergency (an automated venting system that can’t be switched off). And let’s not even get into its Victorian approach to combination door locks.
- It’s a bit handy – and totally random – that the Monks have the ability to return the Doctor’s sight, isn’t it?
- The montage of the post-apocalyptic Earth is too brief to make much of an impact.
And The Random:
- The fictional country of Turmezistan previously appeared in “The Zygon Invasion” (2015). It was the location of the town where the rebel Zygons from the splinter group Truth Or Consequences had a hidden training camp. The Zygons had replaced everyone in the town, and imprisoned Osgood there after they kidnapped her.
- Although it’s never stated specifically, the repeated image of the broken spectacles and the falling wine glass is a visual pun; the world could have ended because of the combination of two different types of broken glasses.
- The scene with Bill trying to coax the Doctor out of the TARDIS at the start sounds suspiciously like somebody complaining to somebody else that they’ve been in the loo for far too long.
Review by Dave Golder